When tech companies want big brains to work on cutting-edge projects, they often head to academia, where some of the biggest brains are already hard at work on some of the world’s most pressing issues. A noted researcher or professor can earn quite a bit of money by joining a tech firm.
Case in point: When Uber needed a bunch of researchers who specialize in artificial intelligence and robotics, it poached most of Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics department. If everything goes as the company expects, those experts will eventually help produce self-driving vehicles. Snapping up so many people at once allowed Uber to stay competitive with Google, which is also experimenting with autonomous cars.
Google itself has enticed any number of academics who specialize in artificial intelligence to join its ranks. For those who’ve spent years or decades toiling away at colleges and universities, the prospect of joining a well-funded company with billions of dollars at its disposal is an attractive one; who wouldn’t want all the money in the world to pursue a passion, or to build something used by millions of people?
But unlike universities, where your work ends up folded into a broader public discussion that (hopefully) enriches society, companies are likely to sequester their brightest minds away in a secretive cubbyhole, and prevent them from sharing many details of their latest research. You might invent Google’s next big product, but nobody will know about your contribution until the company offers it in exchange for cash. That concept of commerce-driven research, of course, doesn’t sit well with everybody who has an advanced degree.
For those academics who want to explore entering the commercial world, though, the first step is to produce a résumé that recruiters and HR staffers will notice. Your academia-centric C.V., with its lists of your papers and conference appearances, won’t work; you need to edit it to reflect the following attributes and experiences:
- Your ability to collaborate
- Your skill sets and knowledge bases
- Your management skills
- Your projects
Lab experience is perhaps most easily translatable to the “real world,” given it’s the place where you’ve likely spent the most time collaborating with others on projects that had quantifiable results; if you managed the lab, even better. On your modified résumé, lab experience might look something like this:
Fancy University, Omaha, NE (2005 – 2014)
Artificial Intelligence Lab Manager
- Directed a team of 25 researchers in cutting-edge projects involving artificial intelligence.
- Developed new ways of analyzing and digitizing brain activity.
- Wrote 15 papers describing advanced actions of the brain, which were cited by multiple researchers and universities.
Other academic experiences, such as classroom teaching, also involve skills that can translate well into the commercial space, including time management and leadership. If you decide to go down the commercial path, take a stab at writing a résumé, but don’t ask an academic colleague to review it; instead, give it to someone you trust who has spent a lot of time working for tech companies, and ask them to give you some pointers. With luck, they’ll be able to tell you exactly how to tweak your narrative.